Robbery is often thought of as a crime against property, since taking the victim’s property is generally the criminals’ goal. However, as a practical matter, robbery is better thought of as a violent crime against a person.
Although the exact definition of robbery will vary by state, robbery can be summarized as the taking of another person’s property by force or threat of force. This distinguishes it from theft, which is a taking of property without force or threat of force. For example, a criminal who holds a victim at knife point while demanding the victim’s wallet is committing robbery. On the other hand, a criminal who breaks in to an unoccupied car and steals the stereo is committing theft. The key difference is that robbery involves confronting and threatening the victim, while theft does not.
Why robbery is primarily a crime against persons rather than property
When committing a robbery, the robber seizes the victim, either with actual force or the threat of force, preventing the victim from leaving. Wrongfully taking away the victim’s freedom of movement is an offense against that person. In doing so the robber is also expressly or impliedly threatening the victim’s life, which is also an offense against that person. Next, the robber often compels the victim to do something, such as reach into his or her pocket and give up valuables. While the robber’s goal is the taking of property, this is also quite an offense against the victim’s person, as the victim is being compelled by threat of death to complete an action which he or she doesn’t wish to complete. Often the robber will also search the victim’s person for more valuables. This touching of the victim is also an offense against their person. It is also not uncommon for the robber to commit other crimes of opportunity, such as sexual assault, after robbing the victim. When the robbery is complete, robbers often take steps to ensure their escape that constitute further offenses against the victim. Sometimes, robbers will punch the victim in the face to disorient the victim while they escape. Other times, the robber will order the victim to remove their clothing or shoes, in an attempt to prevent the victim from pursuing or quickly seeking help. In still other cases, the robber may order the victim to run in a particular direction. In sum, a robbery does involve the taking of property, but the taking of property is often overshadowed by the offenses committed against the victim’s person.
Shooting a robber is self defense of one’s person, not one’s property
All too often, prosecutors and relatives of a dead criminal will blame the robbery victim who fired in self defense. Such individuals suggest that the robbery victim wasn’t justified in shooting the robber to prevent the robber from taking their property. Such statements totally miss the mark. As discussed above, robbery is the taking the of property by threat or threat of force. That means that when a robber is committing robbery, they are primarily threatening the life and safety of the victim(s) – the taking of the property is really a secondary matter. Therefore, a robbery victim who shoots the robber is doing so not to keep the robber from taking their property, but to preserve their life from the robber’s deadly threat.
Rebuttals to common but flawed arguments against armed self defense
The individuals who blame the victim will often respond to my above remark by saying that the victim had no right to play judge, jury, and executioner; effectively calling the victim who fired in self defense a vigilante. That assertion is quite unpersuasive. Briefly put, a vigilante is a person who takes the law into their own hands in order to punish a criminal for a crime that has already been committed. Self defense, on the other hand, is the use of force by a victim to prevent the criminal from injuring or killing that victim. Shooting a robber who is threatening one’s life is clearly self defense, as the goal is to save oneself from the robber’s deadly attack, not to punish the robber. A more detailed discussing of the profound difference between self defense and vigilantism can be seen here.
Another response from the individuals who blame the victim who fired in self defense is that the victim should have complied with the robber’s demands, instead of firing in self defense. This suggestion is also without merit. Firstly, a crime victim is under no legal duty to comply with a robber’s demands. However, just for the sake of argument, it is important to note that even if the victim were to comply, that is no guarantee that the robber will refrain from harming the victim. The fact is that robbers often get violent, even when their victims fully comply with their demands. It is therefore unreasonable to expect a victim to not defend themselves, as an innocent person’s safety certainly shouldn’t be subordinate to the safety of the violent criminal who is attacking them.
Just as complying with the robber’s demands often leads to the victim still being harmed, trying to run from the robber is often unwise as well. Robbers often shoot victims who run. Not surprisingly, a human on foot just isn’t fast enough to outrun a bullet, which may travel at speeds well in excess of 800 mph. Given that robber often target physically weaker victims, even robbers who lack a gun can often chase down and stab or beat their victim.
Victims who simply refuse the criminal’s demands and call their bluff are also in a bad situation. It is not uncommon for a criminal to harm the victim after the victim refuses to cooperate, as this woman tragically learned.
Hoping that the police will be able to intervene is also not a realistic option. Legally speaking, the police owe a particular citizen no duty of protection and are not liable, even when they fail to arrive for 14 hours after being called multiple times. Even if the 911 operator doesn’t fall asleep or otherwise fail to dispatch help in a timely fashion, a criminal can complete their attack in seconds, while the police will take minutes to get there.